The world won’t reverse position on Palestinian unity

Netanyahu holds Abbas responsible for the kidnapping, but the international community won’t link it to the Fatah-Hamas pact

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in June. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)
EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in June. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

Neither the United States nor the European Union is likely to fall into lockstep behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to withdraw support for the recently established Palestinian unity government in the wake of the allegedly Hamas-planned kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.

The pressure Netanyahu is trying to exert might work best in Washington, where the administration is faced not only with increasingly bloody Islamist violence in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, but also with a Congress that is very unhappy about the Fatah-Hamas pact. But even if the US temporarily cut ties with Ramallah — if and when Hamas’s culpability is proven — the rest of the world is unlikely to change course on intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

The entire international community, including the US, has said it will continue to work with the new Palestinian government, with the EU and many countries across the globe praising its establishment as a step toward peace. This is unlikely to change, officials and analysts who spoke to The Times of Israel agreed.

“My impression is that there will be the usual declarations from all governments against kidnappings and terrorism, but they will certainly not connect it with the unity government,” said Avi Primor, a former Israeli ambassador in Europe and currently the president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. “Principally, all of them are in favor of the unity government as they see it as a positive development.”

Beyond the official statements required by political correctness, the world cares very little about the Israelis’ fate, he suggested. “There will be no empathy for us in Europe, because they think we brought the situation upon ourselves, not only because of the occupation and settlements and so on, but also because in their eyes we’re responsible for the collapse of the peace negotiations.” Israel had it coming because it did not go ahead as planned with the last release of Palestinian prisoners during the recent peace talks, many in the international community feel, Primor said.

The EU’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, condemned the kidnapping “in the strongest possible terms. My thoughts are with the bereaved families of the three missing youths and my hope is that they will be found unharmed as quickly as possible,” he told The Times of Israel on Sunday. And yet, he insisted, the current unity government cannot be blamed for something that Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other terrorist groups might have done — because they aren’t part of the government.

“We don’t think this unacceptable kidnapping is something that the technocratic government can be held responsible for, because [the government] consists of non-party-affiliated personalities,” Faaborg-Andersen said. “We consider Hamas a terrorist organization and we have no dealings with it. But Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups do not have representatives sitting in this government.”

The EU urged the Palestinian security forces to cooperate with Israel in the manhunt, he stressed, adding that based on conversations with people on the ground he understands that this is actually happening to the satisfaction of the Israeli authorities.

Washington’s reaction to the incident, if Hamas’s culpability is confirmed, might differ in style from that of the Europeans, but the approach will essentially be the same, according to Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the US.

“The basic attitude of the EU and the US is that Israel needs to be out of the West Bank,” he said. “They believe that if you don’t want mosquitoes, you need to dry up the swamp, and the swamp is the occupation. They don’t always say that out loud, but they mean it.”

(Update: Secretary of State John Kerry strongly condemned the attack on Sunday evening and linked it to Hamas, but gave no indication that the US would reevaluate its stance on the Palestinians unity government.)

Three kidnapped Israeli teens, from L-R: Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16. (photo credit: courtesy)
From L-R: Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16. (photo credit: courtesy)

Netanyahu had been blaming the unity government for the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, even before he announced Sunday that Hamas was behind it.

“Those same elements in the international community that said that the Palestinian agreement with Hamas would advance peace now see the true results of this union,” he said Saturday evening. Speaking to the foreign press on Sunday, he recalled that Israel had warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact. These dangers, he said, “now should be abundantly clear to all.”

Since PA President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to form a government with Hamas backing, Jerusalem holds him responsible for the fate of the missing teens, Netanyahu had said since Friday. “The Palestinian claim that the Palestinian Authority cannot be held responsible for an attack that took place in an area under Israeli security control is patently absurd,” he said Sunday, arguing that the party in control of the area from which the terrorists departed must be held responsible for the attack, regardless of where it occurred.

This argument, too, will likely fall on deaf ears in the international community, Israeli pundits predicted. The alleged perpetrator of the Brussels Jewish museum shooting came from France. No one, they noted, ever thought of holding President Francois Hollande’s government directly responsible for it.

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